Dialogue recording in the booth

The Read On studio is ideal for dialogue recording in comfort. This optimally-treated room-within-a-room is very quiet, even with the air handling on – it helps that we are in the Sussex countryside, so noise is low to start with.

It is a calm, productive place for people to focus and work in comfort, with experienced, efficient and friendly staff who understand the broadcast business from the inside. The booth is larger than many at 2.4 x 1.8 metres, and is where we record many different kinds of spoken word, from emergency announcements to poetry, via language teaching, medical education and tourist guides, to name but a few.

Access to the booth is not via the control room, so you can get to the studio from your car without being in the same room as any other people. The very quiet ventilation provides constant fresh air, and for added virus security the air handling system will change the air more than 20 times between bookings. Microphones, headphones and all touchable surfaces are disinfected after each session.

We normally rig the room for one person, standing or perched, with the option of having the script or video on screen. Alternatively we can rig it for two people to stand opposite each other, or to sit in comfort at an acoustic table.

There is a window between the control room and the booth to enable visual signals between the producer and artists, and there is foot-pedal control for talkback and green light signalling.

Also, as one of the actors in a recent two-hander pointed out, while you are waiting for your cue there is a good view in the other direction through the control room to the Sussex countryside, with Glyndebourne visible in the distance when the trees are not in leaf, and sometimes there are sheep in the fields in between.

Recording equipment

We take a traditional approach to recording dialogue at Read On – a well-damped room, Neumann microphones, really good pre-amps, a broadcast-style mixer with multiple clean feeds and talkback facilities, PPMs as well as radar loudness metering, high-quality A/D and the most accurate loudspeakers we can find. Here’s a look at the recording chain:

We have other Neumann microphones and a selection of AKG units as well, but in the booth we mainly use Neumann TLM193s. These have more neutral voicing than the U87 so they are our favourites. If you need the U87 characteristic you can easily do it on the SPLs – we think it is good to have a choice.

The best microphones deserve the best preamps – we experimented with the Focusrite ISA430 Mk2 – it is a very great preamp and we still have one available, but these SPL units are excellent quality and are well ahead for ease of use in a live situation with clear markings and a more intuitive layout. They have a very good de-esser, a two-knob compressor / limiter and a fine EQ with clear and repeatable control markings, making these fine German preamps an absolute joy to use.

The mics can get into the Clarett interface three ways – direct, via the SPLs, or via the SPLs and this Glensound radio studio mixer. Recording direct to Protools is ideal if you want to post-produce later, but if you want to leave the session with a complete programme in your pocket, or if you want to bring in outside sources, this is the way to go. Broadcast mic channels usually lack EQ and compression; commercial mixers don’t have clean-feeds or proper talkback. The Glensound plus the SPLs give us the best of both worlds.
Those clean feeds and talkback facilities make life so easy when you are dealing with outside sources. Our default settings have OS1 as a telephone line, OS2 is a Mac running Source-Connect and OS3 is another Mac running Skype, Zoom, etc. This computer also provides the on-screen script feed for the monitor in the booth.

This TC Electronic Finaliser 96K does two things – it’s a very good 24/96 A/D converter that feeds the Glensound to the digital inputs of the Clarett, but it also has some extraordinary processing facilities including a great multi-band compressor and a number of well-named presets with subtle names like Punch It Uphill. If you want to hit the end-stops with everything louder than everything else, just take it out of bypass mode and have a play…

The direct microphone feeds, SPL preamp outputs and the TC all go to Protools via this Focusrite Clarett Audio adaptor. It in turn feeds the monitoring and digital metering, again by TC Electronic.

Protools 2020. What more can you say. We also have Audacity, Adobe Audition, Reaper and Logic, but unless you had a project already in one of those systems, we think Protools is the way to go and has the best and fastest speech editor.

Harbeth Monitor 30 loudspeakers – again, what is there to say. These things are stunningly accurate. What’s more, they are calibrated for the listening position in this room. They are surgically revealing – if you didn’t mind the sound of internet music feeds, or the quality from reporters working from home instead of struggling into BH, you will after you have spent some time listening on these…

Extra facilities

We use Protools all the time but we also have two Studer 1/4″ machines. This one is a special A807 with no record amplifiers and no erase or record heads – you can put archive tape onto it and there is absolutely no risk of finger trouble or an electronic fault erasing your precious material. Delicious. We also have a Studer B62 with replay and record facilities, so if you want to record onto 1/4′ tape it’s no problem.

We spend the overwhelming majority of our time just recording audio, but we can also take video into Protools for recording to picture, and lay mixed audio back into video projects using Adobe Premiere.

Read On has a flexible monitoring system – people in the booth can mix their own selection of programme sound, outside sources and talkback, or they can listen to the mixed feed assembled on this little mixer in the control room. Separately, any guests, drivers or chaperones who are sitting in the lobby can be fed with any mix of the same sources so they can keep an ear on proceedings.

Finally (for now) we have a custom switcher that gives the producer the option to talk to the booth presenter on headphones or speaker, talk to the outside sources, take and route phone calls, control the red and green lights and adjust level or balance on the monitoring. And remote the facilities to a pedal. And (optionally) dim the speakers when talkback is on. A fiddle to make and lots of diodes, but so useful…

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